Reflection

Doing Great Work

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At this stage of my life, funerals of various kinds are a regular event in contrast to weddings - though I did attend one on Saturday where the bride and groom made their way to a small church on Toronto Island from the mainland by canoe.

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Walter Pitman OC Oont would have approved. Doing things a different way was something he excelled at.  He lived a full 89 years with many careers and achievements - secondary school teacher, first elected member of the New Democratic Party to the federal government, member of the provincial parliamentant so much more.  Electoral losses later never slowed him down.  He subsequently became Dean of Arts at Trent University, President of Ryerson Techological Institute, head of the Ontario Arts Council, head of the Ontario Instutute for Studies in Education - and in retirement the biographer of five outstanding Canadian musicians.  He and his wife Ida were inveterate arts attenders and I first met them as delegates of a major choral conference where they joined a massed choir for each of my eight years on the job. Incredibly modest about his own abilities, Walter always said to me, "You're doing great work!".

It was good to be cut down to size at his service of celebration.  We heard from a theatre director that he always said the same thing to him.  And we even heard in a moving tribute by his daughter that he said the same thing to his children.  But perhaps the best tribute of all came when she said of her parents, "Any time any of us came into the room - children, grandchildren and now the 10 great grandchildren - their eyes would light up.  A lovely memory of a man whose enthusiasm and support lit up so many of our eyes that evening.

Egged On

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The author Ursula LaGuin died in 2018 at age 88 after a long career as a distinguished novelist, poet and essayist. I picked up a book of her essays, No Time to Spare, Thinking About What Matters and very much enjoyed the opening one, “In Your Spare Time”.  She reflected on the survey she had received from Harvard asking about how she used her own spare time, with a checklist of 27 items.  The first was “golf” and she didn’t put a check mark there.  I wouldn’t either. But as she went on to say, this is a strange question to ask people in their eighties.  I agree.  All our time is spare time. 

LeGuin observes that normally we think of spare time as free time left over from a job or working hours.  There were other things to check on the Harvard list that she didn’t tick off and I wouldn’t either. Racquet sports? – No.  Bridge? – definitely, No.  When my husband was alive he always chose to play against me.  When he won he was happy and when he lost he was amazed.  Shopping? – “if necessary would have been better than -Yes.  TV? – we would be lying if we said No – and last but not least, “Creative Activities” – specified further as Paint. Write, Photograph etc.                                                                                      

Like LeGuin, I don’t regard “Write” as a spare time activity.  I’ve written all my life as I am doing right now.  Most of my writing would be regarded as non-fiction whether paid or otherwise.  It includes reports, newsletters, articles, grant proposals, a book.  journals, letters, minutes, agendas, websites, blogging (since 1995) and more recently posts and tweets – plus a few poems.  Writing is a continuum.  It’s not about spare time.  It also suggests the Harvard survey writer didn’t have a clue what it might be like to live for eight decades.  I find myself thinking that way about a lot of other people too.

It came up when I read about my university’s alumni celebration dinner – to be honest I wasn’t reading at all but watching a video - containing a frame picturing a large collection of golden spoons.  Those who graduated fifty years ago were to be recipients, as I was nine years ago.  “That’s lovely”, I thought – “but has anybody asked whether that’s what we really need from the university after fifty years?”   Were any alternatives considered?  A massage certificate?  A discount for upgraded reading glasses or hearing-aid batteries?  Boots with better treads?

But LeGuin, bless her, has come up with the proper use for the golden spoon.  Maybe between our fixation on probiotic yogurt and fibre-filled cereals, we have forgotten about the frequent menu item of our childhoods – the soft boiled egg.  In her chapter, “Without Egg”, she even gives instructions on how to cook one for the benefit of recent feminist grads who wouldn’t be caught dead in the kitchen.  And to go with it, she spends a bit of time on the egg cup.  Apparently American homes no longer have them – and I am tempted to put a picture of one on Facebook in the “Share if you know what this is” category. Of course I still have one – three in fact.  I also still have the Corning ware with the blue flowers on it which was a popular shower present for weddings in 1959.

After some discussion as to whether the egg should be placed in the cup with the larger or smaller side up, LeGuin moves on to the search for the proper spoon. Before that, she notes that a knife must be made of steel and the spoon must be untarnishable. “I’ve never seen a gold egg spoon but I’m sure one would do” she says.  VOILA!  I rushed to buffet drawer filled with odd bits of silver and there sat the spoon unopened in its little plastic gift box.  Now it becomes a neessity and like Leguin, I start the day with a boiled egg and an English muffin – and browse another of her essays.  My favourite to date is entitled, “Would You Please F*cking Stop!  You’ll have to read it yourself to find out what it’s about.

 

A Good Long Weekend

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Canadians still celebrate a  long weekend in which the Monday is called Victoria Day. I always remember that my father lived under six monarchs.  A Royal Wedding then is a good way to start a Saturday morning.  Unlike a younger generation family member, who said "Enough Already", I joined the millions at 5:30 am since I was already awake.  As someone who read "The Little Princesses" by the Queen's Nanny, I was already primed at about age seven for this kind of thing. I've been to all the Royal Weddings - even the one danced by Fred Astaire.

Watching the fashionable ladies arrive was wonderful as a contrast to the knee-hole jeans I sit across from on the subway. Canadians are also bi-cultural so we are able to get both the C of E. traditional and the Gospel part of the ceremony.  I've enjoyed reading the reviews of the wedding trom the worshipful to the snarky and amusing.  I liked the actor partner from Suits, who when he heard the news of the engagement observed,  "And I thought she was just going out to buy milk".  It was also fun to see those toothless Canadian pages.

What nobody has commented so far that I have seen though, is this.  The Bride's accent is totally American. Those vows were said in a straightforward way that shows no sign of British social class.  When I lived in London and beyond in the 1970s, we were a puzzle to our British compatriots because they didn't know where to peg us on the basis of our accents. It was a real advantage because we were accepted and entertained both by the ladies of the big houses and by the women who "did" for them - once that even happened with a high tea and a later light supper on the same day. The last time I was in the UK is nearly 20 years ago and I hope it is better now.  But the bi-cultural atmosphere of the wedding with both British and media and sport royalties was quite wonderful - not to mention the charity staffs.

The next day, I saw the musical, Come From Away - a truly Canadian story with Newfoundland accents - plus swearing - true to the core whether learned or inherited.  It's good to see that production accepted in other parts of the world.  And last evening there were many views of fireworks from a 22nd floor on a clear night.  Life is good.